Repeating Past Mistakes Won’t Make ECM Work

Stitch banging his head against the wallEvery now and then I read a post that makes me wonder if the older Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors are intentionally trying to keep the industry stagnant. They make a fair penny selling to people who tried their competitor’s solution and failed. Whey not keep it up for another decade?

That was my response when I read How Free Puppy Syndrome Can Ruin Your ECM Strategy. My first thought that this was going to be a generic attack on open source. While I no longer work for an open source vendor, I am still a fan and think that open source solutions provide strong value.

It wasn’t that simple. The article attacked everyone who is trying to take the industry from one of failure to one of universal adoption. I am going to address all the bullet points.

The author meant for each point to be an indicator for failure.

1. Purchasing software primarily based on low costs

This is a valid point when you look at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). I have seen the low cost option fail repeatedly. This applies to all vendors. I have seen the needed implementation services dramatically underbid in order to win the work. Most times that means failure.

When looking at purely the software costs, being the lowest price may not be a problem. Open source and Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are services that typically have lower up-front costs. The key is to know what you are getting for those services, the long-term costs, and the flexibility to adapt the solution to your business.

2. Pick the system end users like best

Wait a second. This is a bad thing? These are the people who have to use the system everyday. Of course, one could split hairs and drop the word “best”. What is really needed is a system that end users simply like. It doesn’t have to be their favorite but if they don’t like it, they won’t use it.

Here is some basic math. If people do not like the system, they won’t use it. If they don’t use it, do any of the other features matter? Are you going to see any Return on Investment (ROI)?


Software that is unused is a wasted investment. Even if a system isn’t the perfect choice for behind-the-scenes, organizational requirements, is it better than what you have? Is it better than nothing? Can it be used as a piece of the bigger picture?

For the leading open source and SaaS vendors, the answer is Yes.

3. Go for the quick win

To be honest, I am not sure what the author is trying to say here. Project Management and documentation don’t tend to drag out a project. They add costs but they tend to provide value during the project and for the life of the system.

What drags out a project? Making sure that a system can fulfill every foreseeable need drags out the acquisition. Trying to do everything at once drags out the implementation.

Manage the roll-out. Document the system. Don’t let a little thing like ‘lack of complexity’ scare you away from a deployment.

4. Learn to live with a millstone around your neck

Ah, good old fashion Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD). The burden of being stuck with a system that people like to use, didn’t cost a lot, and was a quick win for the organization. What a horrible situation.

The author is actually talking about having a system that is too limited to grow with the organization or requires specialized skills in order to make changes. That sounds familiar. It sounds like EVERY ECM SYSTEM I HAVE EVER SEEN.

The best part about this point is the argument against custom scripts. I have seen so many custom scripts in mature ECM systems that sometimes I forget they aren’t required.

The joy of of those SaaS solutions? There isn’t an ability to deploy custom scripts. That is a limitation but one that makes maintenance easy.

5. The once-loved solution is now universally despised by end users and IT alike

I think the author is speaking from experience. This happens with many systems, even successful projects. They age, aren’t properly updated or maintained, and new technology is always around the corner making older systems less attractive.

Every vendor that I have ever worked with has had to create strategies to convince their customers to upgrade. They know what happens when they don’t. People become unhappy.

In fact, SaaS is the best way to avoid this pitfall. While there is no promise of people being happy five years in the future, IT is relieved of the burden of having to work as hard to keep things up-to-date.

Promise or a Threat

There is going to be a second post in this series. I am curious as to what the author is going to propose as a solution, though I can guess. It may even be cloud-based, though not all cloud solutions are SaaS

If you want to avoid a painful Content Management experience, get professional help. I am always happy to help or to provide a referral to someone else who can assist you.

Just be sure whoever you do use doesn’t deal in absolutes or spend their time trying to scare you.

2 thoughts on “Repeating Past Mistakes Won’t Make ECM Work

  1. ECM is no different from every other system implementation except in terms of scale. Very few application systems touch everyone in an organization. As you point out, making sure the software can scale technically is much less of a worry than whether it will be accepted at scale among the employees. I am not a fan of the term ‘adoption’ – to me, the metaphor implies love and nurturing will follow. I will always settle for a grudging “OK, I can use that.” If I can get that from most of the people who have to use it, and if the system meets the hard requirements, I’m good. Nobody actually likes ECM and RM except practitioners of each / both trades. For most employees, ECM is burden which will return only modest value, until the day that it becomes the only way to get anything done. There are no game-changing solutions out there.

    So, if we go back to your points, I’d have to say that I agree. A system that, when total cost is considered (and total cost should include employee time cuz last time I checked, we pay our employees) is affordable, meets requirements, can be maintained and can grow to handle larger volumes and perhaps new features should be considered a blessing regardless of the brand name on the splash screen. “Open Source” isn’t a system, and neither is “SaaS” You have to stop and consider what you are getting out of the box.


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